In the high-stakes streaming wars, the Walt Disney Company has found that valuable brands and past goodwill from families can only take it so far.
This week, the company’s stock took a dive when streamer Disney+ barely registered any new subscribers. This news also came after weak box office for its latest would-be blockbuster, Eternals, which presents a host of muddled moral and theological messages.
The upcoming Encanto, a magic-infused South American tale, which looks a lot like a rehashed combo of Frozen and Moana, may also underperform.
Disney is in a difficult transition, trying to keep its theatrical and broadcast businesses alive for some years to come, while still supplying exclusive film and TV titles to Disney+.
Disney's shows are also increasingly problematic for Christian families, as its kid-targeted titles have introduced romantic same-sex relationships (the High School Musical reboot series), along with sorcery (The Owl House) that goes far beyond allegorical magic – a la Narnia -- among other themes.
On Friday, Disney hyped its streamer’s second year since launch as Disney+ Day, releasing over a dozen titles and announcing a couple dozen others coming soon. Here are highlights of what it has planned, and some clear misses when it comes to serving families.
Hit: Marvel’s ‘Shang-Chi’, ‘Hawkeye’ to Dominate Holiday Family Viewing
Audiences may tire of the Marvel hit machine, but that day has not yet come. Producer Kevin Feige continues to bring in surprising storytellers to liven up the ever-expanding comics universe.
In September, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, from director Destin Daniel Cretton (known for faith-informed stories), became a massive hit. Families that didn’t catch it in theaters can now see it on Disney+.
With Hawkeye, a six-episode event series premiering on Thanksgiving, Marvel plans to keep Avengers fans on the edge of their seats.
But, looking ahead, spring Marvel TV entries She-Hulk, Moon Knight and Ms. Marvel (in summer) center on new characters rather than superheroes seen in past team-ups, so it’s difficult to say what families can expect.
Miss: ‘Home Alone 6’ Hints at a Parade of Cookie-Cutter Remakes
Cracks are beginning to show in Disney’s decade-long strategy to rely on “established IP” for family hits. Case in point: Home Alone 6, with its official trailer getting four times more dislikes than likes on YouTube. Ouch. But the marketing suits are still convinced of this strategy.
Disney dropped previews for two spring flicks that will sound familiar: Cheaper by the Dozen, remade with a multi-ethnic cast, and modern-day Cinderella remake Sneakerella.
Also, this fall, look for live-action Pinocchio, starring Tom Hanks as Geppetto and directed by Robert Zemeckis. Perhaps one of these will be good, but it makes you long for fresh ideas.
Hit: If You Like What You’ve Seen, Count on More of Same
Notably, Pixar has stayed the course by producing family-friendly films and shows – Soul, Luca, and Dug Days, starring the late Ed Asner – that continually find a wide audience.
Those three “content engines,” to use corporate-speak, are continuing to see nine-figure budgets for their upcoming film and TV projects. Pixar has Cars on the Road next year, along with two theatrical films. As to Star Wars, Ewan MacGregor returns as the wise Jedi master in event series Obi-Wan Kenobi, likely to premiere May 4.
Miss: Inspirational Titles No Longer Part of Disney Brand
Walt Disney Studios has a storied history of producing live-action historical and inspirational films, from 1957’s Johnny Tremain to 2020’s Clouds. Yet Disney+ Day featured not a single title in that vein, as the company leans into fantasy genres.
Two developments not mentioned could have promise. Rise, slated for next year on Disney+, tells the inspiring true story of NBA star Giannis Antetokounmpo (a Greek Orthodox Christian born in Greece to parents from Nigeria) and his brothers.
Hit: ‘Enchanted’ Film, Amusing Animated Shorts Added
Reimagining fairy tale tropes in fresh ways, 2007’s Enchanted has delighted families for years — and it finally landed on Disney+ this week. The streamer added it as advance promo for Disenchanted, a sequel set for fall release on the streamer.
They also added fan-favorite animated shorts including Tangled Ever After, Paperman and Feast. Pixar also premiered Ciao Alberto, continuing an innocent coming-of-age story from this summer’s hit Luca.
Miss: Roll-Out Plan for Disney Legacy Titles Still Missing
Since Disney+ launched in Nov 2019, fans have noticed gaping holes in its library — now numbering at least over 800 film and TV titles. Certainly some titles being delayed makes sense (for instance, music clearances can be costly), but it’s baffling for fans in many cases.
Weeks ago, Disney released two seasons of classic 1950s action show Zorro … but only on Disney+ Brazil and Latin America. Perhaps they’ll begin to respond to fan requests.
Hit: User Interface Fixes to Better Serve Families
As a parent who navigates TV options for two little ones, this small change is actually the biggest thing they did for families. Disney+ has curated its library into Collections, to make cartoon shorts (for example) easier to find. However, those collections rotate every month, so our favorites are rarely accessible.
This new option “All Collections” provides a means to quickly get to Collections we like, such as Musicals or The Muppets. Further, Disney+ has also added a Coming Soon feature on the app’s home page to highlight upcoming titles.
Josh M. Shepherd covers culture, faith and public-policy issues for various media outlets. He and his wife are raising two children in Northern Virginia.